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Kill List – 6

Director – Ben Wheatley

Cast – Neil Maskell, MyAnna Buring, Harry Simpson, Michael Smiley, Emma Fryer, Struan Rodger

Release Year – 2012

Reviewed by John of the Dead

I only learned of Kill List recently while trying to piece together my annual list of the best horror films of the year, and after reading many positive reviews I went into this film expecting to really enjoy it, which sadly was not the case. I did enjoy it at times, but overall this is a film that left me pondering how much I really liked it – if I even liked it at all – making this one of the more odd and ponderous horror films of the year. Why is that? Well, Kill List is hardly a horror film for the majority of its runtime, yet once the credits role you soon realize that it really is a horror film, just a horror film in disguise.

Almost a year after his last job, a job he botched, hitman Jay takes on a well-paying job consisting of three separate killings in order to solve his family’s financial woes. Paired with his old partner Gal, they initiate the hits like clockwork without missing a beat, and soon learn that there is more to the killings than they thought.

The vast majority of the film, pretty much everything but the final 15 minutes, comes off as a crime thriller as we follow Jay and Gal taking care of business assigned to them by a mysterious older gentleman. Watching them go about their business was incredible as we were given awesome kill sequences that despite their heinous nature also provided mystery to the film as they were not…conventional victims. Most victims plead for their lives, at least from what our hitmen were used to, but these victims came off entirely different – like they were expecting to die, and also welcomed it with open arms. These questions are eventually somewhat explained at the end of the final sequence, a final sequence that came seemingly out of nowhere and is either a geniusly written effort or a sloppy mess – you decide. (Possible spoilers ahead) Without giving too much away, the climax brings our hitmen face to face with a cult that seemed to be behind the hit-list they were given, killings that served the cult and brought Jay face to face with a destiny he never saw coming. I personally enjoyed this final sequence and found it heavy in horror thanks to making the cult quite creepy – adorned with wicker masks and exhibiting strange mannerisms and spoken sounds that made for some damn good horror. It is during this final sequence that many pseudo-revelations are brought to light, revelations that would make this a very unique and innovative story if they are what I think they are.

My biggest gripe against this story is its un-enjoyable and redundant first act, which consisted merely of bickering between Jay and his maniacal wife. It is during this act however that we are given a few scenes that make little sense at first, but after the film’s climax make more sense. I say “more” sense and not “perfect” sense because I cannot say beyond reasonable doubt that what I believe about these scenes is true, although they would make sense if they were. This is most of the reasoning behind the film not receiving a higher rating – too much is left unsaid. Now there are several horror films that have employed this same ambiguous tactic that I really enjoyed, Triangle being one of them, and what separates these two films is the fact that I did not have to watch Triangle twice. I appreciate horror films that make you think and force discussion over what the film is really about, usually as a result of a climax that throws everyone for a loop, but if the film pretty much requires that the viewer give it another watch to understand it that is a failure in writing for me. I am a firm believer that if you cannot fulfill your story and satisfy your viewer in the first showing then you have failed them, and that is the case with this creative but faulty story.

Co-writer Ben Wheatley managed to supplement his wishy-washy screenplay with positive direction, giving us much chaos and tension from the get-go as we go from Jal’s bickering with his wife to his heinous kills, and then finally to the epic conclusion that proved Wheatley has a knack for executing horror very well. The kill sequences were what really brought me into the film thanks to his great execution, making up for the unenjoyable first act that despite well-execution was still nonetheless unenjoyable. We are given a full-frontal taste of the monster the simple and quiet Jal always was, consisting of knees and hands beaten viciously with a hammer and shot in a no-holds-barred cinematic ride that gives us an up close and personal look of the hard-to-watch carnage going on. Of course, Wheately’s execution is best during the awesome final sequence, which just so happens to be the only actual “horror” sequence in the film. His usage of the cult members was fantastic, with creepy masks and odd sounds spewing from behind the masks. The final fight between Jal and the “Huntchback” was also equally creepy and enjoyable, which also erupted into a pseudo-twist that I saw coming despite some referring to it as a ripoff of the climax for A Serbian Film, a film I have yet to see. The acting performances from Neil Maskell as Jal and Michael Smiley as Gal were great and the best performances of the experience, which was a necessity given it was they who also went hand in hand with the good but little horror provided.

Overall, Kill List is a film I wanted to like but sadly suffered due to a screenplay that despite ingenuity also provided many unlikable faults. The direction is great and results in some horrific scenes here and there, which along with its debatable screenplay makes for either one of the best horror films of the year, or as I see it…an enjoyable letdown that failed to reach its immense potential.

Rating: 6/10

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